Pope Francis to deliver message decrying ‘fake news’

Pope Francis gestures during a meeting with the media onboard the papal plane while en route to Rome on Feb. 17, 2016. Photo by Alessandro Di Meo/Reuters

(RNS) — Pope Francis is preparing an address on “fake news” expected to tackle the thorny issue of journalistic integrity in a speech marking World Communications Day.

Francis announced his choice of topic in September, saying the message would be delivered on Wednesday (Jan. 24) — the Catholic feast day of Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists.

“I have chosen this theme for World Communications Day 2018: ‘The truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace,” the pontiff tweeted.

According to a Vatican news release in September, the pope’s address is expected to promote “professional journalism” over and against “fake news.” The term, made famous by President Trump, was defined by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication as “baseless information that contributes to generating and nurturing a strong polarization of opinions.”

The pontiff has some personal experience with fake news. During the 2016 election, a satirical news website claimed that Francis endorsed Trump for president. The story was patently false, but became one of the most widely circulated fake news stories on Facebook in the lead-up to the election, according to BuzzFeed.

Francis has railed against “fake news” and misleading reporting in the past. During a meeting with journalists at the Vatican in December, he urged reporters not to fall prey to “sins of communication.”

According to Newsweek, he explained such “sins” include “disinformation, or giving just one side, calumny that is sensationalized, or defamation, looking for things that are old news and have been dealt with and bringing them to light today.” He added: “They are very grave sins, which damage the heart of the journalist and harm people.”

The address comes just days after the pontiff said sexual abuse victims in Chile were guilty of “calumny” for accusing Bishop Juan Barros of helping to cover up the sex crimes of a priest who is one of Chile’s most notorious pedophiles. Victims reportedly told church authorities about the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadimas as early as 2002, but it was only after they went public with their stories in 2010 that a Vatican investigation stripped Karadimas of his ministry.

Francis maintained he had seen no proof of wrongdoing by Barros but later apologized for the remarks, saying he understands they were a “slap in the face” to victims.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.


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  • Why does he just not go back to basics and concentrate on teaching Christ and Him crucified? He could help a lot more people that way.

  • All totalitarians seek to reduce “polarization of opinion.”

    Is relentlessly promoting the Climate Hoax “fake news”?

    Is relentlessly promoting “demographic jihad,” and resolutely ignoring assaults, rapes, and murders by invading Muslims and other aliens “fake news”?

    Is relentlessly promoting adultery, invalid absolutions, and sacrilegious communions “fake news”?

    Is calling a notorious abortionist (Emma Bonino) “one of Italy’s forgotten ‘greats'” “fake news”?

    Is giving a medal to a notorious LGBT/abortion activist “fake news”?

    Is refusing to even acknowledge letters from Cardinals, or letters from “climate skeptics,” or letters from abuse victims “fake news”? It certainly is evidence of a desire to exclude certain voices from any conversation–if not the human race.

  • Some examples you provided are alternative narratives or opinions and you provide a good example of that very thin line between opinion and fake news – but for at least 1 and verging so on a second you appear to have landed in the cesspool of fake news.,

  • Just lie as we do here at the Vatican about the sexual perversion and corruption endemic in the Church.
    You sheep – just keep the collection plates full – silently full – large denominations – no coins….

  • Only one of these could possibly fall into the category of “fake news,” a term that has been overused and abused so much that people are using it to tag anything they disagree with.

  • While there’s nothing wrong with Alitalia buying an old plane from their Skyteam partner Aeromexico, you’d think they’d spruce up the Pope’s plane by removing the old stickers.